Written by: W. John Farquharson
THE SHOOTER at the heavy bench rest squinted as he aligned his .45-70 Allin-Springfield Model 1873 Army rifle on the distant target. The rifle fore-stock and barrel was cradled in a rest; the butt was supported by his shoulder. The rear sight was flipped up to its full height, so with no stock support for his head, the rifle tester from Springfield Armory worked carefully to align high rear and low muzzle sight on the speck that was the target – a surveyed 2,500 yards distant.
Holding his breath, he squeezed the 7-pound trigger. The rifle fired, and some 15 seconds later, signals from the target indicated that his shot had struck well inside the 6-foot diameter bullseye on a target well over a mile away!
The Report of the Secretary of War, 1880, Volume III, under the chapter titled, “Extreme Ranges of Military Small Arms,” had this to say:
“The firing was done by Mr. R.T Hare of Springfield Armory who has the enviable distinction, so far as is known, of being the only person in the world who has hit the ‘Bull’s-Eye’ six feet in diameter at 2,500 yards with three different rifles, and who has ever fired at and hit so small a target as that described in this report at 3,200 yards.
In comparison with this, all other so-called ‘long range firing’ pales into insignificance. The gun was held under the arm, a muzzle rest only being used.”
The chapter on long range firing begins with a report from the Armory at Springfield, Massachusetts, May 9, 1879. It records the results of long range tests of U.S. Army Model 1873 .45-caliber rifles using 405 and 500-grain lead bullets, including variations in muzzle velocity and penetration of lead bullets through one-inch target boards and into sand. These tests were made at the request of the Chief of Ordnance. His interest had been aroused by reports of long range infantry fire, up to 1½ miles, during the1877-78 Turko-Russian War.
The lineage of the “trapdoor” rifles used in the tests is apparent from the separate lock plate, the massive side hammer, the milling out of a portion of barrel and fitting a breechblock hinged at the front – all clear indications that the rifles were merely breech-loading variations of the traditional muzzle-loading infantry-man’s rifle. The Allin conversion of the 1861 and 1863 models Springfield muzzle-loaders came out first in .58 caliber rimfire. Later refinements resulted in the .50-70 rimmed centerfire for the 1866 model. The .45-70 cartridge was first introduced with the Model 1873 single shot Springfield. Several model changes were made from 1873 through 1889, relatively minor differences being the type of sights, modified and improved breech-blocks and changes in stock furniture.